The goal of workforce planning is to adequately predict the hiring, training and retention requirements of an organization.
Workforce planning can seem so complicated that it never gets done. Visionary systems suggest that a combination of scenario planning and deep skills assessment can lead to a decision-making framework. I favor the back of the envelope school of thinking. That is, some level of planning is far superior to none at all.
When you have a department (or company) focused on the accomplishment of a single, repetitive task (even if it varies in the way that customer support tends to) there are sound, repeatable tools for workforce sizing that can and should be broadly applied. The techniques are so easy and powerful that precision can be measured in fractional percentage points of accuracy. A spreadsheet, attrition rates, forecast growth curves and a few variables will turn out excellent products in these cases.
In more sophisticated settings, organizational dynamics and political issues complicate the problem. Ultimately, good workforce planning is an iterative (and ongoing) process. Bottoms-up estimating will always be modified by top-down concerns. Workforce Planning is, after all, a planning conversation. Learning to engage the organization in the give and take of planning is at the heart of successful implementation.
Knowing your needs and the issues that affect them is one half of the planning equation. The other, equally important facet, involves understanding your labor market. It is both possible and desirable to know, by name and other contact information, all of the people you could employ within your market. Narrowing it down to those you want to employ comes later.
Although it may seem overwhelming at first (particularly if your organization is in an extremely large city), you should be able to identify the people who are likely to become a part of your workforce, the various sources (schools, competitors, adjacent industries) from which they will emerge. It’s a matter of reviewing the data you already have to determine those sources and the degree to which you rely on them.
This is one of the best uses for an applicant tracking system (ATS). What you are looking for is quantitative data describing the schools, competitors and adjacent industries that supplied you with your current workforce. The very best source of that information is company records. The most likely central repository is the ATS. Data from your existing workforce can show the labor supply patterns.
(Remember the searches you have done in the ATS. They will be useful as you begin to mine for potential employees later on in the process.)
Once you have a solid list of supply points (again, that’s schools, competitors, adjacent industries and other organizations), you can start to ask some pretty interesting questions like:
- What percentage of last decade’s graduates from Community College X did you hire. What percentage of which majors? Are they going to continue that level of supply over the next five years?
- What percentage of your engineers come from competitors? What percentage come from colleges? Will both sources continue to be viable over the next five years?
- Where do your program managers come from? What’s happening in those institutions?
- Where do your technicians come from? What’s happening in those worlds?
Ultimately, you need a supply point by supply point assessment of value and likelihood of continuation? This is the very same exercise that purchasing departments engage in when they plan for the availability of critical materials or subcontractors.
In fact, you might consider collaborating with them. One person’s labor supply is another person’s subcontractor. Being well versed in the labor supply includes understanding the sources for the entire organization’s supply chain.
State funded Economic Development Councils and Boards are great places to find the right data. Each of the members of the Employment Supply Chain, from Universities to Customers and Vendors, from Regional Government to Competitors in transition, members of your chain know the answers to your questions. Building a comprehensive picture of your labor supply, its causes and conditions is a critical step in learning to manage it.